INDIANAPOLIS — Monday is Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States.
This weekend is full of celebrations, one of which being the Juneteenth Foodways Festival that kicks off Friday.
"It makes my heart feel full. It makes my soul happy," Shanét Wallace, Special events coordinator at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, said.
There's an old saying that food is good for the soul. And when it comes to celebrating Juneteenth, food is an important part of the tradition.
"Trying to figure out how Black American's cuisine adds to the traditional American cuisine throughout the years," Wallace said.
For the second year, nearly 30 black-owned restaurants and vendors will fill the front lawn of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site for the festival.
"We had a great turnout with over 1,100 attendees in 2022, our inaugural year. We have sold out almost 2,000 tickets this year and we have a waiting list," Wallace said.
The festival explores a hidden piece of history during President Benjamin Harrison’s presidency.
He appointed the first black chef in the White House, Laura "Dolly" Johnson, a Kentucky native, in the late 1800s, just a few years after Juneteenth was first celebrated.
"He actually fired a French chef — a renowned French chef — because he wanted something a little bit more homestyle with Dolly Johnson’s cooking. She had her own restaurants and businesses in Lexington. He heard about her, fired his French chef and hired her," Wallace said.
To pay homage to Dolly Johnson, each vendor participating in the festival will recreate some of Johnson’s most famous recipes.
"We will have hot dogs, polish sausage, smoked sausage and we'll also have walking tacos," Natasha Williams, Owner of The Coney Lady, said. "I found my niche in hot dogs about three years ago. I decided that I really wasn't ready to traditionally return back to the workforce, so I tried my hand at a lot of things. One Friday I had a coney sale and they sold out."
Williams has been participating in the Juneteenth Foodways Festival since its inaugural year. This year she's recreating dolly Johnson’s ‘cold slaw.’
"When she first introduced this recipe, it was 'cold slaw' and we know it as 'cole slaw.' I followed her recipes so it's different. It's secret and I’m going to keep it in my pocket," Williams said.
Williams says the strength of Dolly Johnson is encouraging and is a journey worth admiring for all.
"The help has turned to heroes. I think it's amazing that we have a space for us finally. I think it's well deserved and we're worth it. We worked a long time and we work very hard, so I think we are worthy of this recognition and worthy of this national holiday," Wallace said.
The Juneteenth Foodways Festival is Friday, June 16th from 3:30 to 8:00 pm at The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site.
Here’s the full list of the participating vendors:
Food and Non-Food Partners
- Black Leaf Vegan
- Black Lemon
- The Coney Lady
- Crab Tacoz Wingz nd Thangz
- The Jollof Buka
- Samora Red
- Big J's Kitchen and Catering
- Gip Got Tips
- Generations Pie Company
- Sip & Share Wine
- Later Taters
- Taste of Manila
- Tonia's on a Roll
- Tea's Me Cafe
- 18th Street Brewery
- My Kitchen Rocks
- Market Square Popcorn
- 5 Star BBQ
- RMY's Soul / Comfort Food
- Marsha's Specially Desserts
- Second Helpings
- Paul's Kitchen
- Retail Partners
- Guy's Cooking Creations
- Big Taste
- Brown Girls Can!
- Unique Designs by Michelle
- Bag Your Thingz
- Yarbros Custom
- Ebony & Ivory
- Groove Candles
The Juneteenth Foodways Festival is made possible through the generosity of Eli Lilly and Company Foundation and is a Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site program.
As a reminder, Juneteenth was designated as a federal holiday in 2021. That means banks and other businesses may be closed on Monday.